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John Singer Sargent: The Making of a Masterpiece: Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose
This picture was painted in the autumns of 1885 and 1886, at Farnham House and Russell House, the successive Broadway homes of Frank Millet and his family. The two girls, Dorothy and Polly, daughters of the artist Frederick Barnard and his wife Alice, posed in specially made white dresses and, when the flowers in the garden faded, Sargent transplanted rose beds and sent new lilies to be planted in pots to retain the luxuriant background. It was executed entirely in the open air and, as the twilight was of such short duration, the easel, canvas and models had to be standing in readiness each evening for that particular light to appear.
A Problematic Subject: Sargent expressed his difficulties with his subject matter to Emily thus: "Impossible brilliant colors of flowers and lamps and brightest green lawn background. Paints are not bright enough."
Polly and Dorothy Barnard: These are pencil sketches of Sargent's two models aged 7 and 11. They replaced the younger Kate Millet who first posed for the picture. Being dark, Kate had to wear a blond wig, but the Barnard sisters had the advantage of fair hair. They were also older and therefore less likely to move around while the artist was at work.
By Lantern Light: Sargent first saw paper lan terns hung among trees and flowers when he was resting in Pangbourne after a diving accident, and the effect of the light charmed him. Then in Broadway, he began the painting of "two little girls in a garden at dusk, lighting paper lanterns hung among the flowers". Capturing the different types of light was all important to him. The artificial light of the lanterns glows in the dusk, reflecting the faces, dresses and hands of the little girls.

 

Garden Study of the Vickers Children: Sargent stayed with Albert Vickers (of the great engineering family) at Lavington Rectory, Sussex, in 1884. His painting of the two children watering the tall lilies anticipates the mood and idea of Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.

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